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A review of "Bright" (2017), aka, "You're not as clever as you think, bro"

I'm not quite off hiatus yet - still stuck in real estate limbo after three deals went south for a variety of reasons beyond our control - but there's no point waiting any longer to write something about Bright.  Hell, Max Landis will probably be blacklisted by the time this goes live.  I'm never current.

Anyway, Bright is surprisingly mediocre for a movie as polarizing as it is.  It has some great things that balance out the truly atrocious stuff, and I guess if you're only looking for one end of the spectrum or the other, you'd probably dump it in your Worst and/or Best of 2017 lists.  Neither is fair - this is a movie that deserves to be forgotten.

Here's the good news: the cast is solid, the pacing is engaging, and the premise is just interesting enough to hook you.  If you scrubbed off the crappier aspects, you'd end up with a perfect lazy Sunday dad movie / laundry-folding movie / drink while browsing the SA forums and occasionally looking up movie.

At it's core, Bright is just an average buddy cop movie.  And when that's all it aspires to be, it's a totally fine buddy cop movie.  There are genuinely funny moments and great little "oh shit!" snaps of rising action that'll keep you invested.  It is predictable in the let's-get-comfortable sense of the term, a frivolous little distraction for an overworked mind.  The sort of crap that I usually dole out 4 / 5 ratings to in spite of my Inner Critic, which hopes to be taken seriously by the academe.

But here's the problem.  Bright doesn't want to be frivolous.  It doesn't want to just be average.  It wants to be art, man.  And when it starts trying to think... oh, man, does it pull a muscle.

The central hook is that we follow two LA cops on One Crazy Night in a world where fantasy creatures are a part of everyday life.  Will Smith, human, is partnered with Joel Edgerton, orc, as they stumble across a conspiracy involving elves, dark magic, a doomsday cult, and a powerful wand.  The conceit here is that all the fantastical stuff is just another boring, humdrum part of everybody's day - the opening scene makes this clear when Smith goes to kill a fairy that's been buzzing around his house, the same way one would dispatch a rat.


And here's where the fatal mistake is made: for a movie that relies on the banality of the fantastic, Bright sure as hell doesn't put in any effort to make its world real.  Simply throwing fantasy tropes at the screen and then having somebody roll their eyes and go, "Ugh, not again" isn't realistic - it's cynical and irritating at best.

This is a world where fate-defining magic powers are real, where cabals of hostile creatures can, have, and continue to threaten the existence of all humanity, where the history of the world was permanently changed by powers beyond comprehension and witnessed by all, yet we still have cars, real estate agents, bureaucracy, and the LAPD?  Eat me, Bright.  If even a tenth of the bullshit you're trying to sell us on was real, this planet would've been butterfly-effected beyond recognition.  People wouldn't even speak English in Los Angeles, they'd be speaking some pidgin dialect made up of Latin, grunts, and interpretive dance.  Hell, there wouldn't even be a Los Angeles.

The way you do this isn't by lazily pulling fantasy archetypes into your bro movie, it's by making a fantasy movie that has the same beats and character arcs as a traditional cop movie.  You did this all wrong.  We should be watching Gandalf and the Balrog pull a Lethal Weapon to find out who's behind a recent spate of dwarf poisonings.

Often the laziness of the film's execution is covered up by over-the-top, in-your-face EXTREEEEEEMEness, which becomes tiresome after maybe the third time some idiot spouts off a 'roided-out tangent that dangles like the limp thirteen-inch dildo of an insecure man hoping he fooled you.  Bright so desperately wants you to take it seriously that it will do anything to prove it means business - whether that involves glowering or killing babies, David Ayer wants you to know this is some serious stuff STOP LAUGHING MOM.

And this leads into the bigger problem, and surely the one that you've heard of by now: the movie is the poster child of tone deaf social commentary.  Y'see, in traditional White Guy fashion, the filmmakers decided that Edgerton's orc character could just be a stand-in for [insert any minority here, but probably black because that's the only one white people feel enough guilt about to really acknowledge].  Jokes and heartwarming lessons about prejudice ensue.

Now, I could surely go on and complain about how stupid and backward that idea is - subbing out a pigmented human with a different species / literal monster, yup, no possible way that could backfire - but since A) pretty much every critic in existence has already made that point, and B) it's at least well-intended and you can see they're trying to be socially conscious, I just want to use it to circle back to my complaint about the script's overall laziness.

There's a part somewhere in the first act where a Hispanic cop says something like, "You still give my people shit about the Alamo."  It's supposed to be a casual throwaway joke, but just consider how much nonsense is revealed by it:

1) He establishes that the Alamo, and by extension, "shit" for it, still existed in this universe.  In other words, American soldiers were killed there during an attack by Mexican forces in a pivotal moment of the Texas Revolution.

2) This means that we can be pretty sure slavery in America still happened in this universe, as this was a critical reason why the slaveholding nobility of Texas pushed for rebellion against Mexican rule in the first place, thus leading to the Texas Revolution and consequently the battle at the Alamo.

3) This means that in a world populated by magic users and orcs - which, I'll remind you, have on multiple occasions conspired to bring about the end of humanity as we know it - white dudes in America still saw no problem institutionalizing race-based slavery into their governments and fighting to the death to defend the idea.

4) ...and yet somehow the filmmakers decided that following up on that line of racism wouldn't bring a new level of insight to our discussion of race in America, and instead decided to do some half-baked nonsense with an orc instead.

This is what I'm talking about.  You can't just say, "Aw, bro, I got this fucking BOMB idea, dude, it's like a fucking cop movie, but with FUCKING ORCS, man!" and expect us to get on board without any follow-up questions.  And you sure as hell can't then pretend that you're using that little fart of a half-idea to escalate the conversation that we keep refusing to have in this country.  You have to actually think about what you're saying and consider how it would play out in reality.  Anything less than that and you're just wasting our time.

But, yeah, the cast was pretty good.

My Rating: 2.5 / 5